House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was insurance.


Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately and not for the first time I am a little unclear about the Liberal position when it comes to the nuclear industry and also nuclear safety. In the last Parliament, the Liberals supported an identical bill. My colleague is now raising concerns about whether the dollar figure is high enough.

This gets to the point that there have been nuclear safety concerns in Canada with the system that we run. That is legitimate and there is a public debate about the viability of nuclear energy in terms of safety but also cost overruns. As the member is from Ontario, I suspect he is well aware that his tax burden, the money coming out of his pocket and going toward cost overruns on nuclear also has been a concern.

In terms of the amount of money, what formula would the member suggest to the government should go into a bill like this one to compensate a community for the loss of life, for the loss of the community itself, in the event of a serious nuclear accident?

That is a legitimate question, because if the formula is wrong, insurance companies are accustomed to it all the time and they try to get a formula that works to compensate people in the event of an accident. The scale and scope of nuclear accidents are potentially enormous, but also long lasting. It is not the same as a car accident that happens on the road and someone is compensated to a certain dollar figure.

What formula would the member suggest? If he is a little concerned about $650 million being the upper limit and beyond that no one could get more compensation, what would he suggest? What is the formula? Would it be per person? Would it be by the square mile? Would it be by the size of the nuclear accident? These are important considerations which I hope the member can clarify either today or at committee.

Without that knowledge in Canadians' hands, the assuredness they need to have about nuclear energy will not be there. I assume that is what his position is and that is what he is hoping to achieve.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the key questions we have. As to the criteria itself, I do not know specifically what number would be deemed to be adequate. That is why we need expert testimony. That is why we in the Liberal Party support sending the bill to committee, to find out what the criteria is, how it compares with other jurisdictions, whether it is adequate and whether it meets the legitimate concerns raised in developing the bill. More important, in terms of moving the bill forward, that is why we support sending it to committee. If we oppose the bill and do not have this discussion, then we would be putting aside this very important issue that is well overdue to be examined.

My humble request to the NDP member is to support sending the bill to committee where we can ask these very legitimate questions and ask legitimate points to make sure that the experts can give us the advice that we need to be able to determine what amount is reasonable and why.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I grew up in Port Elgin. My father worked his whole career at Bruce nuclear. I worked at Bruce nuclear for three summers as a summer student. My sister works at Bruce nuclear. My brother-in-law works at Bruce nuclear. I may be the only one in the House who has actually been inside and worked at a nuclear plant.

I appreciate that the Liberal Party is supporting sending this bill to committee for further discussion. Does the Liberal Party have a position on the safety record? I am speaking not only for Ontario, but for all of Canada on the nuclear industry overall and how it has performed over the last number of years since its inception from the first major nuclear plant, Douglas Point. I was there as a summer student when it was decommissioned. Does the Liberal Party have a position or comment on the quality of the safety in the nuclear industry in this country?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the cap of $650 million, we want to make sure that the criteria developed for that is done in a clear and transparent way to make sure that whatever criteria used is adequate for the stakeholders.

With respect to the nuclear industry, I raised those remarks when I talked about the bill. We have legitimate concerns about the government's handling of Chalk River and about the way it fired Linda Keen. The nuclear industry's performance over the years speaks for itself. It employs many Canadians. We take pride in the Candu reactor technology. That is not the issue. The issue is how the government has dealt with the nuclear industry, how it has dealt with Linda Keen, how it has dealt with security and safety for Canadians. That is the area of concern. That is what I expressed in my remarks.

I hope the member opposite understands the concern we have expressed is reflected in the fact that we saw the government again fail to protect the supply of isotopes. It neglected to show leadership on that file. It is just another example of where the government has let down Canadians and the international community, and the many Canadians whose health and well-being depend on the stable supply of isotopes.

The question is not necessarily about what our view is of the nuclear industry. The question is about how the government has handled its leadership with respect to the nuclear industry in times of need. Unfortunately, it is sad to say, it has failed miserably.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, at some point we have to ask, are we going to get involved with responsible energy policy? The bill is putting forward a minuscule amount for liability. When the American law provides $10 billion and in Germany it is unlimited, how can we honestly stand in the House and say that the amount in the bill is anything serious in terms of dealing with liability? We know it is the bare minimum and we know it is a throw to the industry.

I would like the member to comment on what he thinks of the American legislation which allows for $10 billion and the German legislation which allows for an unlimited amount, juxtaposed to the amount in this legislation.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know I only have a few seconds so I will be very brief. I believe this bill is a positive step in the right direction. That is why we are supporting the bill. That is why we feel that the amount in the bill is much better than the current amount which is inadequate. We raised that concern in committee and in the Senate. That is why we are supporting sending the bill to committee so we can have that discussion. I hope the NDP will also support sending this bill to committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.

I live near a nuclear plant, so I understand how important it is to review the existing legislation because it does not meet current international requirements respecting liability in the case of a nuclear incident. Given the Conservative government's enthusiasm for nuclear energy—which, contrary to what it believes, is not clean energy—we must update this legislation, which is over 30 years old.

Ontario and Alberta are about to embark on this dangerous adventure with federal support, so we owe it to ourselves to clarify what nuclear plant operators are liable for, define the financial terms of that liability, and create an administrative process that will ensure that citizens affected by a nuclear incident are spared delays due to a high number of financial compensation claims.

The primary purpose of Bill C-20 is to set up a liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident. Though the bill is far-reaching and complex, like the sector it governs, it does three things. First, it defines the liability of facility operators. Second, it defines the financial terms and limits of that liability. Third, it creates a process or administrative tribunal to hear claims in case of a major incident.

This bill is flawed, and I will explain why. Nevertheless, we must study it rationally. It does improve the existing act, and if we do nothing, the financial liability of a nuclear plant operator will not increase above the amount set 33 years ago in 1976. Bill C-20 redefines nuclear damage. The new definition is clearer and more complete, and it is more in line with the international standard.

The bill clarifies the liability of nuclear facility operators. It clearly defines what kind of damage is compensable and what kind is not. One of the most important clauses is clause 9, which provides that the operator's liability is absolute and applies automatically the moment radiation is emitted because proof of fault is not required.

Clause 9 reads as follows:

(1) The liability of an operator for damage caused by a nuclear incident is absolute.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), no proof of tort or of fault within the meaning of the Civil Code of Québec is required.

In short, this means that if there is a nuclear incident, regardless of the cause, with the exception, of course, of an act of war, civil war, insurrection and, now, terrorist activities, the operator is responsible and must compensate those affected.

Sections 13 to 30 of this bill list all of the compensable damages, such as bodily injury or damage to property; economic losses, or revenue losses; loss of use of property; and the costs associated with taking preventive measures and precautions, if the measures were ordered by an authority acting under federal or provincial legislation relating to environmental protection.

The financial limitations of this bill are very important. The government considers nuclear energy to be a clean energy. We disagree. The government would not be obligated to regulate and define the legal and financial liabilities of nuclear plant operators to such a degree if this were truly the case. We believe that nuclear energy is a dirty energy. That is why this bill provides for a liability framework in case of a nuclear incident.

That is why Bill C-20 establishes a compensation and civil liability regime to address damages resulting from radiation in the unlikely event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation.

I used the word unlikely, but an incident is still possible, since it is covered by legislation. I am not sure that, in the case of biomass boilers, a truly clean energy, and a renewable one, I would add, we would need a bill like Bill C-20 to regulate operations.

To my way of thinking, this shows that nuclear energy is not clean.

There is a real and constant level of danger associated with nuclear energy. I live very close to a nuclear power plant, and I know that there are emergency measures in place for that plant. The local people know the evacuation procedures. We have iodine capsules, which means that there is a very real danger.

Really clean energies such as wind power, geothermal energy and hydroelectricity do not threaten people's health and safety as nuclear energy does.

In our opinion, the government should focus on these emerging alternative energies instead of putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket. That is why we will support this bill, which creates a real framework for nuclear practice, provides for compensation and protects people.

As I said, the current legislation is more than 30 years old, which means that people living close and not so close to nuclear facilities are “protected” by legislation that has not been reviewed in three decades. That is incredible.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of strict control over the nuclear industry. A number of provisions of the current legislation no longer meet today's criteria. I am thinking particularly of the amounts of compensation and civil liability.

If a nuclear incident were to take place in a facility today, the limit on damages would be $75 million.

This is ridiculously low. To date, the liability of operators of nuclear facilities has been limited to $75 million.

With this bill, the limit on the operator's liability would increase from $75 million to $650 million.

The main clause in the bill is clause 21(1), which stipulates that the liability of an operator for damage resulting from a nuclear incident is $650 million.

Yet this amount can be increased by regulation, which is an important plus. Given how much time it has taken to get back to this bill, which was introduced during previous sessions, it is important to be able to use regulations.

Members may ask, why is the limit $650 million?

In my opinion, we have to be practical. This limit reflects a balance between risk, insurance and international rules. It was not determined randomly, and obviously we have to look at what is done around the world. There are limits to insurance and to what operators can pay, because no insurer will want to assume a risk that is higher than what we see in other countries. We therefore cannot impose unlimited financial liability, because operators may not be able to find an insurer willing to insure such a risk.

This amount therefore seems to be a compromise between the theory, whereby the financial responsibility of the nuclear power plant operator is absolute or unlimited, and practice, which prevents operators from insuring themselves for such an amount.

Bill C-20 establishes the specific liabilities of nuclear power plant operators and raises the amount of insurance those operators must have.

In fact, the new limit will increase operators' insurance premiums sixfold. Mandatory financial guarantees will be gradually imposed, and regulations will set out the period during which a nuclear installation can be reinsured by the government.

Thus, it provides $400 million in reinsurance at the time of proclamation, to be gradually reduced to $0 over the next four years. As we can see, this is to prevent too much pressure from being put on nuclear power plant operators.

Since the amount of $650 million, which for now, is much better than the status quo at only $75 million, is up for debate, the amount of liability held by operators will be examined by the minister at least every five years.

We say, “at least every five years”, but it is important that the limit be reviewed every year to really assess the risks and make international comparisons.

The 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act provided for an adjustment over the years, but nothing has been done in that regard for 33 years. As we can see, it is easy to forget our responsibilities. It is up to this House to ensure that the government reviews those amounts and revises them every year.

Clearly, something needs to be done. In that regard, in his 2005 report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development specifically addressed the issue of insurance for nuclear installation operators after two petitions were presented. One petition reads:

...the $75 million coverage required under the NLA is woefully inadequate by international standards. Officials from Natural Resources Canada [said] that today, $250 million would be an equivalent amount [equivalent to the amount set out in the legislation when it was passed in 1976], accounting for inflation, while the international standard is approximately $650 million Canadian.

The statement by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is clear. Insurance coverage for nuclear installations is not up to international standards. We must intervene. Canadian insurance requirements have not changed or been adjusted for inflation since the law came into effect almost 30 years ago. In Canada, the liability of operators of nuclear facilities is lower than that in 12 other industrialized countries with nuclear installations. These countries have in place a combination of operator insurance, a public fund and an industry reserve, which far exceeds the amount of insurance required of Canadian operators.

We support this bill because it will substantially increase the maximum financial liability to $650 million. This is important, and so are the administrative process and the tribunal to deal with claims in the event of a major incident. The bill establishes a special tribunal to hear claims when the Governor in Council deems it is in the public interest to do so.

The law thus provides an administrative process for dealing with claims in the event of a major incident. It clarifies the role and the scope of a claims tribunal. This process would be used instead of the courts and would allow claims to be handled more efficiently and equitably. It is not difficult to imagine that the high volume of claims by victims would tie up the courts and result in delays that would be far too long for the victims. It is imperative that the victims of a nuclear incident not be subjected to a cumbersome legal process that would quickly become bogged down by too many claims. This bill would allow victims to be dealt with more quickly and, we hope, more equitably.

In closing, Bill C-20 is necessary given that, in the next few years, the Conservative government will support an increase in nuclear power plants. We completely disagree with this government's enthusiasm for nuclear energy, which is not a clean energy, contrary to what the Human Resources minister believes.

At present, there is no satisfactory way to manage nuclear waste. Furthermore, we now have many options in terms of clean, renewable energies, such as hydroelectricity, geothermal energy, wind energy and forest biomass. But this government does not believe in these energy sources of the future, and would rather leave future generations—our children and grandchildren—with the environmental burden left by the nuclear industry.

Given the high level of danger of these nuclear plants, the Bloc Québécois recommends strict and efficient monitoring at all stages of the process: extraction, transportation, heat and electricity production, and so on.

That is why we are in favour of this bill, which not only updates the responsibilities of nuclear plant operators, but also significantly increases the financial limit of this responsibility from $75 million to $650 million, a limit that the federal government has not reviewed since 1976.

This bill will also ensure fairer and more efficient treatment for people who could be affected and who would be submitting compensation claims.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the member's colleagues from the Bloc spoke in recent days about an east-west power grid that would presumably allow power to be sold from Hydro-Québec into Ontario markets as opposed to simply running power lines from north to south. We in Manitoba have the same experience, where our power lines and power sales are all to the United States.

We have advocated for a number of years that we should build an east-west power grid. At this point, we have enough developed and undeveloped power to provide power for Ontario, so it could close down its nuclear plants. We also know that Saskatchewan is looking at nuclear plant development right now. I believe Alberta is as well. Likewise, the east-west power grid, if it were to be constructed, could solve that problem as well.

I think the member probably agrees with me. Would she comment on that idea and expand on how an east-west power grid would affect Quebec?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

Naturally, I completely agree with him. Today we are debating a compensation process for victims of nuclear incidents. As I said several times in my speech, we believe that the government should invest not in nuclear energy, but in renewable, truly clean energy like hydroelectricity. It should also adopt a new, environmental vision and develop other potential energy sources so that instead of creating problems that our children will have to deal with, we create a series of solutions.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

During the last parliamentary session, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party supported this bill. I would like to thank them for their continued support during this session.

After listening to today's speech, I do not understand the Liberal Party's position.

Personally, I support nuclear power. However, I am pleased she made the important comment that no matter what side of the argument one is on when it comes to nuclear power, the bill is important because we have nuclear facilities out there now. We desperately need to get this covered.

It is good that she has pointed out the difference between supporting the existing facilities out there as opposed to the debate of whether we should expand nuclear power. To me, the bill is important to ensure that we cover what we have out there. It puts a platform for the future in place, but it also ensures that we adequately cover what we have today. If she would like to comment on that, I would appreciate it.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I am from Trois-Rivières, and Quebec's only nuclear plant is located just on the other side of the magnificent St. Lawrence River, in Gentilly. Quebec will certainly not be building any more of them.

Disposal of waste from the plant is a major problem that remains unsolved. Despite exorbitant costs, the problem persists. Moreover, there is the ever-present danger of a nuclear incident.

People living with plans for evacuation from their own homes and iodine capsules in case of a nuclear incident have every right to be worried. These are all very good reasons for me not to choose nuclear.

Some might say that Quebec is lucky to have hydroelectricity. That is true, but we planned our development around that energy source.

Nonetheless, because nuclear power plants have already been built, we must see to their maintenance, to the disposal of waste, and to compensation. That is why we support this bill.

It is our responsibility to take action. We cannot leave the people to their own devices in this case, and that is why we support the bill. That being said, we would like to work together toward finding new energy solutions for the future.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Trois-Rivières on her wonderful speech. Since she lives close to a nuclear plant, she gave a good explanation of the dangers of this type of energy. She mentioned that she was in favour of this bill since it is a huge improvement over what currently exists. However, the compensation rates set out in the bill do not correspond to international rates.

Provided that the bill is passed at this stage, does the member plan on working in committee to improve compensation and compensation criteria based on population density in the areas around nuclear plants? There can be a big difference in population density in the areas around these plants.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

In committee we can certainly look at ways to improve this bill. In fact, it is important to consider population density in the areas potentially affected by an incident. However, the $650 million amount is based on what happens in other parts of the world and also on the ability of the nuclear plant operator to get insurance.

We could have unlimited liability, but that would be unrealistic. The damages caused by an incident can be extensive. How do we calculate the value of a human life? There is no way to determine that. It is a serious problem, but we will certainly look at it carefully in committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that it should not matter where a nuclear power plant is located. Whether it is in Canada, or the United States or Germany, they should have pretty much the same limits of liability because, at the end of the day, the damages will be roughly the same.

It is my understanding that Germany and Japan have unlimited liability. I assume that if we cannot get enough insurance on the private insurance market, then the country itself will backstop the lack of insurance.

Insurance is a very fluctuating market. In some years we can get multiple millions of coverage and then just as abruptly over a period of a few months, the markets will dry up and we will maybe get half of what we had the year before, for four or five times the price. It is a very difficult thing to try to determine what sort of private insurance will be available at any given time.

It seems to me that we should be going to the highest standards here, not to the lowest. If Japan and Germany have unlimited liability, that is exactly where we should be as well.

I also point out that in the United States it is $10 billion, which is more than 15 times higher than what is being proposing in the bill. Clearly, something has to be done about this at the committee stage to rectify this problem.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. We will take his comments into consideration. It is important to keep in mind that if there is unlimited liability and operators are required to have insurance, we will have to make sure that the public, the government and everyone agrees to pay for nuclear plants. This is turning into a real debate in Canada. It will surely require a referendum. Quebec has some experience with this, and could perhaps lend a hand.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great enthusiasm that I enter today's debate.

This issue points out some of the more fundamental questions that Canada now faces around the production of energy, energy security, climate change and others. When we talk about the nuclear industry and the government's enthusiasm and support of it to this point, it shows us a decision has been made. In fact, it shows that many decisions made.

What the New Democrats have struggled with is the government's sense of balance. If there was any sort of attention of equal amount or intensity made toward the alternatives, in terms of energy supply and demand for Canadians, in scope and scale, then we would have some enthusiasm in supporting the government.

Instead we see this imbalance, an enormous amount of money going to carbon capture and sequestration, an unproven and costly technology, huge amounts of attention going toward the nuclear industry, which raises some fundamental questions and which exist within this bill, and still a $1.3 billion or $1.4 billion subsidy into the tar sands every year, money they do not need nor should have from the Canadian taxpayers.

The bill talks about liability and the limits of it. The New Democrats have no challenge and no question at all in entering the debate of the need for modernization of the act. We understand the act is antiquated and old. The liability limits were set in the early 1970s. They are not sufficient and they need to be modernized.

The question is this. How do we come to a figure that meets the risks that are inherent within the nuclear industry? How do we find a formula, as my Liberal colleague mentioned earlier, or an actual sum amount to compensate a community for a nuclear accident of any scale?

As I will show in some parts of my testimony, if not today then perhaps later when we resume, when accidents happen in the nuclear industry, and they do happen, the costs can be enormous for relatively small accidents in which there was no major fallout. We are not talking simply about Chernobyls. We are talking about what are called minor nuclear accidents in the nuclear industry.

I attempted to put this question to the parliamentary secretary and to my colleagues in the Liberal Party, who have given more of a blank cheque to the government in all things: so much for probation. I cannot see any of my Conservative colleagues in the government losing much sleep during this probationary period. In giving a blank cheque around nuclear liability, the Liberals have intoned and suggested they can take this to committee and potentially raise the limits of liability for a nuclear accident. However, that is not the case.

If the Liberals and the Bloc choose to support the government on this bill and on this figure, then $650 million is what we are stuck with. It is critical for everybody to understand this. It cannot go up. We cannot, as my colleague from Winnipeg suggested, meet international standards.

Once the bill goes through with this limited liability, that is it. It is always curious when the government decides to place limited liability on one industry and not on any others. There is no need for the government to put a limited liability on an oil and gas producer, or a coal-fired plant or a wind generating plant or a solar industry because the accidents that happen in those areas, although they can be significant, cannot come anywhere close to the type of damage a nuclear accident can cause.

When the two other opposition parties pass this bill to go to committee, they also give their stamp of approval on the limited liability of $650 million. Yet today they have declared that they have no clue whether that limit is sufficient, whether $650 million is satisfactory to cover off the damages from a nuclear accident.

That somehow seems to be irresponsible. To suggest one thing to the public, that they will take a good look at this and maybe raise the limits, is irresponsible. They should know they cannot raise the limit because the royal recommendation contained within this bill suggests otherwise.

Now let us get to some of those international standards. It was mentioned earlier that in the United States it was an approximately $10 billion pool of moneys collected together from all kinds of different—

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

We are about to move on to private members' business. I can assure the hon. member that he will have 15 minutes left to finish his remarks the next time the bill is before the House.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-288, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 15th, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.


Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in debate on Bill C-288, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), a proposal to grant preferential tax treatment to a chosen few graduates in designated regions who take up qualifying employment for a limited period, after graduation.

I would like to remind the House that this proposal is nearly identical to one considered in the last Parliament, known as Bill C-207, a proposal, I further note, that was soundly rejected by the majority of all party finance committee after it conducted a detailed examination only last year.

Why did the committee reject this proposal? It was more than likely due to the numerous problems associated with this legislation, problems I will briefly outline.

First, it would basically provide preferential tax treatment to recent select post-secondary graduates working in a designated region, regardless of whether there would be a surplus or a shortage workers with their particular skills.

Second, what this proposal would classify as economically depressed designated regions is informed by another piece of legislation that has not been updated in nearly three decades. This would lead to both Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which have among the lowest unemployment rates in Canada, to be comically classified as “depressed regional economies”.

Is Manitoba, with an economy that has remained so strong that it is launching television ads aimed at attracting workers from other parts of Canada, a depressed region?

Is Saskatchewan, with the lowest unemployment rate in the country and labour shortages, a depressed region?

Listen to what the Canada West Foundation had to say about Saskatchewan's economy:

Not only did Saskatchewan lead Canada in economic growth last year, it is also in solid contention for doing the same this year. In fact, many analysts expect the economy of every other province but Saskatchewan to shrink this year....In 2008, Saskatchewan created more jobs than ever in its history. Things were so hot that some industries faced labour shortages, to the point that Premier Brad Wall visited job fairs outside the province to try to attract new workers.

Is Saskatchewan a depressed region? Clearly, the answer to that question would be an emphatic “no”.

Moreover, a proposal based on the assumption that both provinces are economically depressed and in need of special assistance would not only be ineffective, it would be preposterous.

Third, there is no guarantee that new graduates attracted to a designated region would remain there once their eligibility for the credit expired.

Fourth, Bill C-288 would be tremendously expensive, representing $600 million annually in lost tax revenue. Is $600 million for a proposal that would likely not result in any meaningful economic activity and likely not create a single job efficient? Again, clearly, the answer is an emphatic “no”.

Fifth, this proposal would be exceedingly unfair in that it would grant preferential tax treatment to a select few and nothing for others. For example, a new graduate working in Saskatchewan, one of the outdated depressed designated regions, and earning around $33,400 would not pay a penny of federal income tax for three years. Whereas some in Ontario, not included in the nearly three decades old list of designated regions, would pay almost $2,700 per year in federal income tax.

Without a doubt, this proposal is fatally flawed and one that the House should reject. Not only is it costly and ineffective, it would do nothing to ensure Canada generates the highly-skilled workers we need to succeed in the global knowledge-based economy and meet the needs of employers across Canada.

A skilled, educated and adaptable workforce will greatly influence Canada's ability to compete in a global marketplace and ensure we remain a prosperous country. That is why our Conservative government has remained focused on helping provide the highest quality education and skills training.

One of our Conservative government's ongoing commitments has been to strengthen post-secondary education to enable more Canadians to pursue studies and better link the skills and expertise of students to real world needs.

We have not merely been talking about that. We have taken real action through significant new investments to make that happen. These include: an additional $800 million per year to the provinces and territories through the Canada social transfer to strengthen post-secondary education; support that will reach $430 million annually for a new consolidated Canada student grant program designed to increase post-secondary participation and, ultimately, graduation; $205 million in new annual funding to granting councils to support research and development at Canadian universities, creating new training opportunities for graduate students; close to $200 million per year in new tax measures to help students and families with the costs of college or university, including the textbook tax credit, a full exemption for scholarship and bursary income and making the registered education savings plan more flexible and generous; and, measures to directly support academic excellence by supporting the following: the creation of an additional 1,000 Canada graduate scholarships awards for outstanding Canadian masters and doctoral students; the establishment of 500 new prestigious scholarships to attract the top Canadian and international doctoral students to Canadian institutions; and, the creation of new practical research and development internships for graduate students at Canadian companies to provide students with hands-on experience and understanding of the research challenges of the private sector.

Our Conservative government has also taken action in support of skilled trades. These include: a new apprenticeship job creation tax credit, which provides eligible employers a tax credit equal to 10% of the wages paid to qualifying apprentices in the first two years of their contract, up to $2,000 per apprentice per year; a new apprenticeship incentive grant that will provide $1,000 per year to apprentices in the first two years of an apprenticeship program in one of the nationally recognized red seal trades; and, a new tools tax deduction of up to $500 to tradespeople for the cost of tools in excess of $1,044 that they must acquire as a condition of their employment.

Also in budget 2009, we provided even further opportunities for short and long term skills upgrading. This included a targeted program for apprentices and new summer youth employment initiatives, such as $15 million to the YMCA and YWCA to place young people in internships in not for profit and community services organizations. As YMCA Canada noted, the latter initiative will “assist young people to gain valuable employment skills and mentor civic engagement”.

We have also recognized that a fair and competitive tax system is fundamental to ensuring ongoing economic prosperity, providing incentives for youth to obtain further skills and knowledge and fueling entrepreneurship and investment. That is why we have slashed taxes nearly $220 billion since forming government in 2006.

Unmistakably, our Conservative government has a comprehensive and long term plan to address current economic challenges while laying the groundwork for future prosperity. We cannot be sidetracked and we cannot afford to be derailed by expensive and ineffective proposals such as Bill C-288, a proposal that would do nothing to further regionalize economic development or lead to job creation.

Bill C-288 is a poorly targeted and unfair tax measure that is constructed on an outdated piece of legislation that has not been updated or revised in nearly three decades. That would absurdly classify Saskatchewan and Manitoba as depressed economic regions despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I am unable to support this proposal and would encourage the House to similarly reject it, as the all party finance committee did after examining it in-depth last year.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the proposal before us today, which a very good proposal. At a minimum, it gives us the opportunity to speak about some of the challenges that those of us who represent smaller areas and rural communities in Canada have and what we as a national government might do to enhance the possibility of having some of our young people return to work in the areas from which they come. We have put a lot of resources, energy and time into developing our young people and we would like them to return home and participate with the new skills, training, education and intelligence they have gathered over their years of education, if they choose, with some incentive.

This bill is timely given the recession we are in and the difficult economic challenges that are being faced all over the country in large and small areas. Attention is being paid to some of the larger centres with big populations. Areas like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are being decimated by downsizing in the auto industry. There are also small, vital, viable, wonderfully exciting communities across this country that are being hit hard as well.

They should, in partnership with senior levels of government, be able to attract some of those young people who they fostered in the first place back to work with them to develop new economies and take advantage of some of the new opportunities out there that they know about. Many of the young people study these. Many of them travel. Many of them, in their university settings, rub shoulders with folks from other parts of the country and get involved, interested and terribly excited about some of the new possibilities that might be there for all kinds of communities and areas in this country.

We need them to come back home and share their knowledge with their community leadership and work with businesses, social and economic development professionals or folks who exist in those communities. They would begin to not only imagine but actually work on putting in place those new work, business and social development opportunities that will actually put those communities on a proper footing.

The member who spoke previously defended the position of the government and its lack of action where regional economic development is concerned, particularly where smaller communities are taken into consideration. If we were to listen to her, we would yet again come to the understanding that the government really does not know or have any interest in knowing what is going on in big parts of Quebec where there are many challenged regional and rural areas that need not only money and resources to come from various and sundry places but personnel. They need young people. They need that intelligence that they bring to be part of that package as well.

I know that in my own area of northern Ontario and Algoma, surrounding Sault Ste. Marie, we have all kinds of challenges where the economy is concerned. We are taking some of those really wonderful little communities with unique and interesting characteristics and turning them around in these very difficult economic times. We will take advantage of the new economy that we know will come at us if we do the right thing.

Before the fall of the financial institutions around the world, the economy did not serve smaller, rural and regional areas in the same exciting way that it did for some of the bigger centres.

We think that a shift in priority, a shift in the way that we look at economy, a move back from the focus on global and world economy and a move back from the kind of interaction and trade that we hung our economic development and trade hat on for so long would play into the opportunities and the possibilities for some of our smaller communities.

We need to begin once again to focus on domestic economies and on local economies, on the ability of local producers, manufacturers and workers to share with each other, to barter with each other and to work for and with each other to create work to generate the wealth and the money that is needed to keep a local economy going and, by doing that, then to participate from a position of strength and more positively and actively into the larger economy, which is often regional, then provincial and national.

Given the serious challenges facing young people when they come out of university these days, particularly with the loans they have accrued over those years of trying to get an education, it is often not realistic for them to go back to a smaller area where there is very limited opportunity for a job that they are trained in and a job that will pay them the kind of income they need to pay down their loans in a realistic timeframe so they can get on with their lives, consider entering into a relationship and having children. They will often choose to go some place else because of financial considerations and the burden of debt on their shoulders and on their families' shoulders, frankly. Because of that, they often move on to some place else and everybody is a loser.

I think most young people would be excited to go back home and actually create for themselves a wonderful lifestyle in a place where they were known and where they could bring new energy to their community.

In a country like Canada, with such a vast area of rural and remote lands, for us to develop those smaller communities and ensure they are viable and vital helps all of us. It makes our country a better place. Given the resource base of so much of what we do, where our relationship with other countries and trading fairly with other jurisdictions is concerned, it is the way that we harvest and take advantage of those resources in a sustainable fashion, which I believe young people understand much more readily and clearly than we often do. At the moment, our only practical experience and background is in the way that we have always done it. Young people may have new ways of doing things from what they have learned in their education. They may know how we can create an economy not only for today but an economy for tomorrow for our children and our children's children. We also need to do all that we can to protect the very at risk and vulnerable environment that right now that all of us really need to be paying attention to.

The member who spoke previously said that this was a very expensive attempt to attract young people to do some local and regional economic development. I suggest that we make political choices here every day that talk about how we spend the money that we collect from taxpayers.

For example, the government has chosen over the last two and a half years to give back to big corporations, oil companies, banks and wealthy Canadians, some $250 billion in tax relief. That is a lot of money. If we take one small percentage of that and use it in a way that helps young people to return to their communities and stimulate local economies, I think our country is better off in the long run and it is a more intelligent investment in our young people. It says to them that we appreciate and put value on who they are and the education they have received, that we want them to come back and that we are willing to be there with them and help them financially.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for his excellent speech. I hope that the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar listened to some of what he had to say.

Unfortunately, she left before the member for Sault Ste. Marie finished speaking, but if she had listened to his whole speech, I believe she would have seriously reconsidered her own position.

I would also have liked it if the Conservative members had listened more carefully to the speech by the member for Sault Ste. Marie and had distanced themselves from their Conservative ideology. I believe that if they had been more attentive, we would have more support for this bill, at least I hope so.

I would like to thank my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle for agreeing to introduce the bill, which gives a tax credit to new graduates working in regions with demographic and economic problems.

I have to say that my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle and I have visited a number of regions of Quebec in the past two months. Everywhere we went—Chicoutimi, Forestville, Matane, Trois-Pistoles, Baie-Comeau, Rimouski, Rouyn-Noranda, Val d'Or, Mont-Laurier, Maniwaki and La Tuque—we heard the same message: this sort of measure is needed to help young people and the regions.

I will come back to the speech given by my Conservative colleague from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. She raised a number of points. First, I have to say that if the member had consulted her people in Saskatoon, she would have realized that the Government of Saskatchewan has just introduced an identical program to help graduates who settle in economically depressed regions with declining populations.

The member also said that the Regional Development Incentives Act needed to be updated because it was out of date. I agree that this act should be updated, but it is not the role of this bill to do that. It is up to the government.

She also said that this program would cost $100 million a year and that it was far too expensive. Hon. members will recall Bill C-207. The Conservatives who spoke to that bill said it was far too expensive. They were talking about $600 million at the time. I see they have finally got their estimates down to more reasonable figures.

To give my colleagues of the House some context, I will give a brief outline of the bill. The tax credit is intended for students who, in the 24 months following the successful completion of their studies, accept employment in their area of specialization in a region that is facing economic and demographic difficulties. The bill would give an income tax credit of up to $8,000 to recent graduates for a minimum of three years.

In the 2006 election, I promised to introduce legislation to help young people who want to settle in the regions. I am talking about Bill C-207, which I introduced in April 2006. It was supported by a majority of members of the House at all readings and even made it to the Senate. Unfortunately, when an election was called in the fall of 2008, the bill was stopped in its tracks.

I am therefore very pleased to see that the bill is being debated again here today in this House. I am also happy because it gives me the opportunity to clarify a few things. By voting against the former Bill C-207, the Conservatives denied young people access to a tax credit they could have used as of this year's tax return. I was especially disappointed by the Conservative members from Quebec, particularly the two ministers from my region who, incidentally, are very familiar with this measure, since the Quebec government has had a similar measure in place since 2003.

Once again, these members have proven that those who are members of governing parties in Canada tend to close their eyes and forget about standing up for the people they represent. This time, I hope that Conservative members from Quebec, especially the members for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma, will pass along a message within their caucus explaining the benefits of such a measure.

It is a surprise to no one in this House when I say that the regions of Quebec, as well as several regions in other Canadian provinces, are in the midst of an economic crisis that began long before the current crisis struck. I am speaking of northern Ontario and northern British Columbia and of several large regions in decline in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. These regions have had economic woes for many years. It goes without saying that implementing a tax credit to encourage young people to live in the area, or to remain there, would be very beneficial.

Our regions are experiencing a real crisis that the Conservative government is completely ignoring. I hope that, this time, my colleagues opposite will show a little more humility as they listen to the cries for help from the regions and the young people living there.

Quebec is not the only province to adopt such a program. Following the speech by the member from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, I stated that the provincial government of Saskatchewan instituted a similar program a few years back.

Many regions are in a period of economic distress, which of course only increases the trend of youth out-migration. Indeed, the further we go from the main centres, the more the population is declining. Quebec, like Saskatchewan, has taken measures to stem the tide. The exodus of youth and the depopulation of the regions are not new phenomena. However, for decades, they were offset by high birth rates. With the drastic decline in the birth rate, the challenge today is to keep these young people in the region and to attract others to come and settle there. Time is of the essence because the trend has continued since the 1990s and the situation is worsening in several areas.

At present, the population is declining in 6 of the 17 administrative regions in Quebec, namely Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Lower St. Lawrence, the North Shore, Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands and part of Mauricie and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. In fact, in my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, young graduates about to marry or start a family leave every day. A region that loses its young people is condemned to certain death, in the medium or the long term. To make matters worse, the departure of one young person often sets off a chain reaction and many more people leave their regions.

Young people who leave their regions to go study in Quebec City or Montreal end up making connections and friends and developing a network there. As such, it is more than likely that, once they have completed their studies, they will want to settle in their new community rather than return to their home region. That is what happened in my own family. There are five children in my family. My three sisters, my brother and I have 11 children all told, all of them born in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. Now, only three of them remain in my region, while eight have gone to live elsewhere.

In closing, I would like the members to bear in mind that this bill has two goals: stem the outgoing tide of young people and bring skilled workers back home. This tax credit would go a long way toward developing the regions.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, my Bloc Québécois colleague's passion for his family, his region and all of Quebec is remarkable. It is wonderful.

With respect to Bill C-288, I was quite intrigued to hear the speech of the Conservative Party member from Saskatchewan, whose region I recently visited upon invitation. We held forums on community economic development. It was quite ironic because the member from Saskatchewan narrowly beat out a great person I know, Nettie Wiebe, who will win it next time.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Wishful thinking.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

I think that a couple of hundred of votes should do it.

In Saskatoon people talked about the need for this very effort, that regional economic development hinged upon their ability to retain and attract graduates and young people. Young people have been leaving. Those human resources are critical to the development of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan in general and yet their representative today was speaking against such an effort.

This also speaks to a fundamental philosophy that seems wrong with the government and needs to be altered with respect to resources in general. We are talking about natural resources as well as the human resources in our young people who go through the training programs. The bill attempts to address the disastrous loss of human capital we have seen in many parts of rural Canada.

I come from northwestern British Columbia. While we have exported minerals, forestry products and fish, we have also exported a great deal of our young talent. We on the New Democrat side support the bill. We believe this could help alleviate some of the strains within our community. This is important in a national context as well simply because failing to attract this young raw talent back to our regions, will inhibit the ability of the country to bounce back from this recession. That is getting more doubtful today as the Prime Minister puts on his rosy glasses. The IMF and the Parliamentary Budget Officer are forced to correct him time and again.

The recession seems to be deepening and the only way out is to have a national vision. The only way out is to have a strategy and a plan. We must encourage the redevelopment of our rural communities. We have been losing people and talent. It affects things in a cyclical way. The more difficult it is to attract young professionals to a community, the more difficult it is to attract anyone to that community, and the more difficult it is to have the services to give Canadians the quality of life they have come to expect.

We hope that the bill can address the professional shortages in particular. We are talking about the doctors, the nurses and engineers who can help stimulate an economy. When the tipping point has already been crossed it is very difficult to attract other nurses, doctors, engineers and architects into the community when there is a shortage. A doctor may not come if that doctor is going to be the only doctor on call. If two or three doctors are already there, it is much easier for a small town to attract another doctor or nurse. Architects, artists and all the other professionals do not come if the pool is too small. We have seen the trend over the past 20 years. Some of it is partly due to demographic trends. However, it is also because of a lack of vision on the part of the federal and provincial governments. It affects the urban and rural landscapes of this country.

Today I was pleased to welcome a group from my community of Thornhill. Members of the junior secondary band were here on a triumphant tour. The band had just won a bunch of gold medals at a national competition. These young people are in Ottawa for the first time. They are celebrating in our capital. They have such bright young faces and so much talent to exhibit over their lives. However, after they graduate from college, in the trades, or university, what will our ability be in northwestern British Columbia, or any part of rural Canada, to attract that talent back? How can we make it more welcome for them? Bill C-288 seems to help address that, to at least take some steps toward helping those who are interested in living in rural parts of Canada.

The history of this country has been driven by an idea that we would expand into some of the more remote and rural regions in order to access the incredible wealth in resources. Much of that was done in an ad hoc way, but there was always an understanding that the resources were common property, that the resources were of a collective good that Canadians were endowed with.

Time and time again we have seen natural resource policies from the government which shut down communities. We have certainly seen it across British Columbia in the forestry sector. It is absolutely devastating. Fifty-four mills have closed and 28,000 people have lost their jobs in a five year period.

Then when someone brings forward a bill to counteract that and make it more attractive for graduates to get back into those communities to start up their own businesses and have a professional career, we hear Conservative members say that we do not need that either. They will strip down our basic industries, and then when we suggest ideas that could attract professionals back to those communities, the Conservatives say that they are too busy for that. They are occupying their time with free trade deals with Colombia to which they are not applying any kind of intelligence whatsoever. If there were a better form of investment than this, I would ask the government to make that claim and stand on it.

The government has claimed that attracting our young people to rural parts of the country is just too expensive to do. Yet the Conservatives can find $1.3 billion every year to dump into the tar sands, into companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars especially in times when oil was $140 a barrel. They did not know what to do with the money, and the problem was it was overheated and the government was absolutely complacent with the previous regime and it continued to overheat.

That was considered a good choice and is still considered a good choice by the government. We see that as fundamentally flawed. The government should use that $1.4 billion to help graduates move into rural parts of Canada. It should stop these tax handouts to companies that do not need them, and put that money in places where it would actually make sense to help alleviate the strains that are happening within rural Canada.

The second point to this speaks to another vision that seems to be absent, which is what a restoration of the economy would look like. South of border we see quite an inspirational movement toward a green economy, toward making the recovery and the investments that are happening on behalf of the taxpayers lead to a betterment of and a creation of a sustainable economy.

The government says it is agnostic and it will just step back and let the invisible hand do its nefarious work. Yet time and again young professionals and new companies say that the investment environment here in Canada for green and new sustainable technologies pales in comparison to that in the United States, Europe and Australia.

The money will flow to the places that actually create the environment to attract the young professionals that we are talking about in this bill. The government cannot simply wash its hands of this and say that it is going to dump a bunch of money into the oil sands but do nothing on wind energy, which is running out in two months' time. Wind companies have been petitioning the government for months now, asking what it is doing to catch the shortfall.

Canadians are interested. Companies are being set up. People have made the investments. They are ready to create those jobs, and now the government is saying that the subsidy, which is one-quarter of the one in the U.S., already tipped out of scale, is just going to die out completely.

To young folks who are coming out of the colleges, universities and the trades right now, it is perplexing to encounter a government with a policy and a budget that was perfectly designed for 1950. It would have been an excellent set of numbers and initiatives from a government two generations ago, but not for a government looking to the future, to a new economy for the graduates of today.

We get these mixed signals all the time. And we wonder why young people do not get more involved, why the voting rates are so low, and why they do not stand for office as frequently as they should. I have talked to those young people. I know that even my Conservative colleagues sneak into a school from time to time, or encounter a young person, by accident, perhaps. The Conservatives need to ask the young people what they need. The things needed in rural Canada are initiatives that allow young people to feel some sense of hope of returning to their communities and reinvesting in those communities, creating the kind of economy and communities that we want to see for the future.

The Conservatives have to get out of the dark ages. Those guys have to turn around and support initiatives that are proactive and progressive. They should at long last leave the ideology behind and support the bill. Let us get on with attracting young people back to rural Canada.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?